There lies no argument within the medical community that in order to improve healthy cholesterol levels, LDL (bad cholesterol) needs to be lowered, but it was also thought that raising HDL was significant in reducing heart attack risks. However, the trend is changing. Research now proves that raising HDL (good cholesterol) is not enough to give beneficial overall impact. Raising HDL cholesterol, to be clear, can’t hurt, but it is insufficient action to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with cardio-vascular disease.
The January 2012 edition of Consumer Reports® magazine, in an article that examined the frequency of changes (as much as 13% of medical research studies were later contradicted by other studies) in medical claims based on control-group research, found that some major pharmaceutical corporations were aware that raising HDL cholesterol by targeted prescription drugs was ineffective as a treatment. Not all of these types of drugs have been dropped from the pharmacological repertoire.
As far back as 2006, The New York Times reported that pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer®, halted its development of an HDL-raising prescription drug because studies had not only proven that the practice of increasing HDL levels had no tangible effect on cholesterol health, but the drug had serious potential side-effects, including death.
Drugs that have been under development in the effort to raise HDL cholesterol take a basic approach, but have showed “disappointing results”; this is pharma-speak for “they don’t work.” The premise is that high doses of niacin, a B vitamin, should (and do) increase the HDL in the blood when they are ingested with statins. Even though this combination did succeed in raising HDL cholesterol levels, it did nothing whatsoever toward prevention of heart attack or stroke.
Lifestyle adjustments, on a grand or even moderate scale, can help to up the HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, and that’s good. For example, 3 cups of fresh orange juice per day will raise HDL levels by as much as 20% (it may also be too much acid for the tummies of some people). Red wine, consumed in moderation, which means 2 glasses per day for men and 1 for women, does an equally good job, and some doctors are recommending moderate consumption of red wine to their patients. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, also promotes an increase in HDL cholesterol levels, as does regular aerobic exercise.
The bottom line is that LDL cholesterol levels should be reduced in tandem with HDL levels being raised; unless LDL goes down, the risk of heart disease does not shift.
A Study Curtailed
A collaborative study undertaken in 2009 between the United States government and pharmaceutical company, Abbot Laboratories, was slated to take place over nearly 3 years; it was cut off in 2011 at the halfway point because results were already definitive and contrary to what both entities had hoped for. A total of 3,414 adults with cardio-vascular disease formed the study group; as is normal in these controlled situations, a certain number of participants were given placebos while the others were given the drug in development. The results were so dramatic, proving zero benefits, that the study was abandoned.
The Best Approach
Doctors should be aware of these facts, but if patients are armed with knowledge, they are able to participate in the decision-making process with their doctors. The advice is clear: it never hurts to work on raising good cholesterol, preferably by natural and lifestyle change means, but it requires the lowering of LDL cholesterol, through significant lifestyle alterations or prescription drugs, or a combination, to realize adequate benefits to humans.